17: Welcoming the Ghosts

17: Welcoming the Ghosts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Welcoming the Ghosts

“Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Christmas had lost a bit of sparkle. I was on my fifth tired trip from the basement, wondering if all this hoopla was necessary anymore. My arms were loaded with snowmen, pinecones and other festive knickknacks. A large jingle bell slipped my grasp, fell on my toe, and bounced across the floor, frightening the yuletide out of my cat.

It had been easy to feel the magic of Christmas when my children were young. It was all there in the misspelled letters to Santa and the worn pages of the Sears Christmas Wish Book. It was infused in school pageants and gold spray-painted macaroni crafts. It melted like marshmallows into hot chocolate as we watched The Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty and Charlie Brown.

It’s harder to feel the magic now that the kids are young adults. We keep up many of our traditions, but some have fallen by the wayside. We no longer attend the annual Christmas magic show sponsored by the local fire fighters. Coordinating everyone’s weekend work schedules simply became too complicated. And the kids don’t get up to open their stockings before the sun anymore. It’s more likely I’m waking everyone up by setting the coffee to brew.

I have my own steadfast tradition though: for years I’ve read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by the light of the Christmas tree. You can’t read that story over twenty-five times (not to mention the many versions of it I’ve seen in films) and not start noticing the three ghosts in your own life. But they don’t visit me the way they did Mr. Scrooge over the course of one night. They settle in for the season.

The ghost of Christmas Past demands the same Christmas meal every year: turkey, mashed potatoes, peas, sage and onion stuffing, baby carrots, rich gravy and canned cranberry sauce. It isn’t so much sauce as jelly, and it’s important that the can rings are visible as it jiggles in the glass serving-dish.

His voice is heard in the stories told across the dinner table, and in the tiny mince tarts made from my grandmother’s recipe. He is a ghost as light and fragrant as the memory of my grandfather’s pipe smoke, yet he is the ghost that anchors us together. Those we have lost from our table rest in his shadows and our hearts.

The ghost of Christmas Present arrives long before the meal if I am willing to slow down and welcome her. Yes, for me, if not for Dickens, the ghost of Christmas present is a woman. She turns up the Christmas music and opens a bottle of wine. She reminds me to remain calm in long checkout lines. She keeps me company and reminds me why I am baking pie after cookie after lemon square when I’d rather be feet up by the fire. And on Christmas Day when dinner is finally served, she is the laughter at our table, the stories shared for the first time, the new neighbour who stops by with cinnamon maple scones.

The hardest ghost to recognize is the ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Be. It has no gender, no shape or solid promise, but it breathes softly in my daughter’s voice as she shares her hope to act on stage at Stratford one day. It darts through the light in my son’s eyes when he looks toward his girlfriend. It reminds us that the worries and the joys that fill our days will pass. But it whispers too, that there will be new joys and new worries to take their place.

So when that jingle bell bounced off my toe, it sparked the memory of my son finding it nestled in the snow on our deck. It was a Christmas morning eighteen years ago. His eyes were wide with wonder and I had smiled and winked at my husband. “It must have fallen from Santa’s sleigh,” I told my son. We hung it on our tree that year, and every year since.

That memory reminded me why I was lugging all those decorations up the stairs. The Christmas ghosts would be arriving any day now. I soothed the startled cat, and wondered whose turn it was to hang the jingle bell on the tree.

~Kim Reynolds

Orleans, Ontario

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